If there was any solace from the Dolphins’ 23-20 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars last Sunday, it was the play of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in his first game back from fractured ribs. Tagovailoa not only came out unscathed but had a promising performance, completing 33 of 47 passes for 329 yards, two touchdowns and one interception.
As Tagovailoa prepares for Sunday’s home game against the Atlanta Falcons, the Dolphins offense is looking to build off the positives from an encouraging start.
“I thought that, for a guy that had quite a bit of time off, [he] came out firing. ... Coming off an injury and not really being able to practice how we wanted to, I thought it was a credit to him as far as his preparation,” co-offensive coordinator/tight ends coach George Godsey said Tuesday.
Tagovailoa said Wednesday his ribs are “sore” after his first game in a month, but “I’m just glad I got to get out there and play with the guys.” The Dolphins held a walk-through Wednesday and Tagovailoa was estimated as a limited participant.
In 47 dropbacks against the Jaguars, Tagovailoa wasn’t sacked but that was more a testament to his ability to avoid hits as opposed to the offensive line’s performance. According to Pro Football Focus, the unit allowed 20 hurries against Jacksonville. Tagovailoa added that during the game he stills feels a bit of discomfort, but “when I’m in the game, you’re just going.”
“He’s responded well,” coach Brian Flores said Wednesday. “He’s really into the preparation for this week. He was in yesterday working out and getting started on his prep. The same thing this morning. He was in early going through some of the early down stuff — the run game, the play action game and the dropback game. Understanding how they want to play defensively. He was asking a lot of questions like he always does and going through his preparation. Just ready to get out there and practice, really walkthrough today.
“But it’s an opportunity to get in the huddle, go through the play calls, go through our alignments, our assignments and our responsibilities. His conversations with the receivers, the backs, the tight ends and the o-line. ‘Hey, we’re expecting this, we need to do this. This is a good player, make sure we got this guy taken care of.’ Matchups, things like that.”
With Tagovailoa back in the lineup, the Dolphins returned to some of the core tenets of the offense they built around him in the offseason, which included use of RPOs and pistol formation. Tagovailoa ran plays out of the pistol formation on 16.4 percent of snaps, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, a noticeable increase from play under backup Jacoby Brissett, who only operated out of the pistol formation on 1.9 percent of his dropbacks.
Brissett also struggled with downfield passing but Tagovailoa was efficient in the intermediate parts of the field. Tagovailoa was incomplete on all five of his attempts that traveled 20 or more yards but was 8 for 8 with 163 yards on attempts that traveled 10 to 19 yards. For comparison, Brissett, who entered for Tagovailoa in Week 2 and started the next three games, is 11 for 23 on pass attempts that have traveled 10-19 yards this season.
Tagovailoa was especially sharp on a pair of touchdown drives, a 13-play, 75-yard scoring possession to open the game and a 91-yard drive that put the Dolphins up 20-17 in the fourth quarter.
“I think we executed pretty well,” Tagovailoa said. “Up front with our [run-pass options] and then when we had to push the ball downfield. Yeah, we were all on the same page on those drives, on those two drives. But that’s just something that’s hard in this league is consistency, and that’s what we’re trying to strive for offensively, defensively and as a whole.”
Tagovailoa admittedly wasn’t perfect in his return to action, particularly throwing a bad interception one play after Miami’s defense forced a fumble in the third quarter. His preparation for the Falcons also comes amid continued reports that the Dolphins are engaged with the Houston Texans about a trade for quarterback Deshaun Watson. Reports of the two sides closing in on a blockbuster deal surfaced late Wednesday afternoon, hours after Tagovailoa spoke to reporters for his weekly news conference.
As those reports swirl with the trade deadline less than two weeks away, the Dolphins continue to work around Tagovailoa for their upcoming game.
“He was able to overcome some negative plays offensively and convert third downs,” Godsey said. “That’s what the quarterback position is about. We’re using those as far as things to build on because the more drives we have like that, obviously the better off we’ll overall be.”